I wrote on memories yesterday.
Personal memories and historical memories are the blocks of our life. We live for our memories since, at the end, are memories that create our thinking, our background, our experience, our knowledge.
Personal memories are something ease to understand, is what we directly lived through direct experience. but those memories are just a portion of the memories we have and have to deal with.
Another great portion of our memories is build into the society we are living, shaped trough communication (media, arts, word of mouth, storytelling), school and other tools.
Some of those memories are related to the cultural heritage, some are related to the moment we are living, some are just simply lies.
Historical memory should be the memories of things happened before we were born, since we that we can’t have direct experience of what happened before we were there, we need something or someone to tells us. Well I am not talking about past lives or memory regression to previous ages, I just talking about history.
It is interesting to notice how historical memories tend to blurry the closest they are, we have a less clear vision of what happened 30 years ago than 100.
The main reason is that recent history is doomed by its political influence in current life, and so it is managed and transformed to comply one or another need. Ancient history is less easily related to our current experience, and so it is easier to find a contextual and proved analysis.
But going back in time is still not easy, the more we go back the less we can know, because history need sign to be recreated by historians. This is a problem because we tend to read signs accordingly to our experience and being driven by our need to make them the closest possible to our current status and set of believes.
It is common in science history and history history to see this. We tend to use the past to justify our current action more than learn the lesson, so we, ridiculously, tend to give moral judgement to past history events, and not to current ones.
Historical memories are not something static, and not absolute. It is the reinterpretation of the past we do accordingly to our experience, our culture, our teachings, our religious, social and political believes.
You question this? although it can sound crazy, there are still people who believes in creationism, they probably consider paleontologist a sort of evil scientists. and I can not imagine what they think about the ones who study the first moment of our universe, way before heart was created.
Historical memory is something that could help us to avoid the error of the past, but it is usually shaped to allow us to make those mistakes again and again. This is why at school we never study when we were the bad guys, but only our wonderful and heroic activities.
Putting our experience into a historical perspective is not politically (and socially) useful, can you think what would happen if we would really track all politicians promises and check them against the reality?
Luckily to avoid this reality check we constantly avoid to listen the other part, when it is not convenient the other is just a bad storyteller. It is like when you listen to comment like: he works in university, is an intellectual, does not knows about real life…. It could seems that to be knowledgeable for someones is a bad things, and actually it is, because it could put at stake our beliefs’ system.
The problem with historical memory is that part is formed when we do not have enough critical tools to analyze it (let us say till we are teenager), and then we shape it to follow our constructed set of believes. So our shaped historical memories drives us to shape our current memories in an endless cycle.
I wrote about this in the past, I called it rational acts of faith.
Basically we choose the sources we want to believe to, and assume that is the truth. Since that is the truth, the rest is accordingly a lie.
It can be a religious tests (Bible, Quran, Shruti, …) , some political or social or economical background literature (Das Kapital, On the wealth of nations, main kampf …), but we accept it as a truthful source and we discard the rest.
Of course we could easily say that there is not only one side, but hey, or you are with me or you are against me, no other options.
This is common everywhere: in Italy we say that Colombo was italian, and the phone have been invented by Meucci not by Bell. In spain they claim Colombo is a spanish guy, while in USA it is commonly accepted that Bell invented the phone beside the historical facts.
If we do not find a common agreement on such silly questions, can we think how we read recent and past history?
Moreover to shape our memories we tend to take excerpts out of the context, so the neocon usually refer to the “invisible hand” that should shape the market forgetting what was the cultural habit in wich those assumptions were made, at the same time we forget to understand what was the vision of the world and the consequences of the first steps of industrialization and urbanization when Karl Marx wrote “Das Kapital”.
Out of context anything can be used for the purpose we want or need. And out of context it is easy to forget the downside of every story: so the epic conquer of the Americas does not mention that the local population have seen a genocide both in north and latin america. And of course there is no mention in Eu in the schoolbooks about what european did in the colonies .
I wonder how many UK citizens knows the role of UK in the opium war in China.
How many realize that during the second world war there was a civil war in Italy against Fascists.
And what italian did in the colonies to the local people.
Or how many Japanese knows what happened in Manchukuo.
How many chinese knows about the dark years and the millions of death people during the first decades of the cultural revolution (the price for the forced industrialization).
Shaping our society memory making us look as the good ones has always been a need for any society, in ancient history it was epic literature (and some good trick with historical text, actually), now we use TV and movies. but nothing really change. Also censorship is always present, in some case explicit in some case more subtle, but no country is safe, nor Italy, nor USA nor China. Ok in China is clear almost evident.
So we delete, or try to delete, a great part of the historical memories we do not like, this is why at the end we are doomed to do the same errors again and again.
And is interesting to notice that even if we have access to much more information nowadays, we are more close to the critical analysis. Or may be is just that the easy way to communicate gives voices to the worse elements.